By Andrew Caulfield
Competing against the might of Coolmore and Kildangan can never be easy, but the shrewd Ballylinch Stud operation manages better than most, as last week's action reminded us.
Lope de Vega's Group 1-winning Australian son Santa Ana Lane just missed out on the huge first prize when beaten half a length in Saturday's TAB Everest, but still went home with more than AUS$2.1 million. It has also been another excellent year for the Ballylinch star in Europe, with group success from Duke of Hazzard, Ecrivain, Feliciana de Vega, Four White Socks, Lope Y Fernandez, Max Vega, Phoenix of Spain and Zabeel Prince, the last two being Group 1 winners.
Lope de Vega is one of several French Classic winners which have been based at Ballylinch in recent years. After defeating New Bay to take the 2015 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (as well as the G1 Prix de la Foret), Make Believe joined the Ballylinch team in 2016 and has had his first runners this year. From a crop of 87, he has caught the attention by siring that tough and progressive filly Rose of Kildare, whose Group 3 victories in the Firth of Clyde and Oh So Sharp S. came on her 11th and 12th appearances. Now Make Believe has added a second first-crop group winner, thanks to another of his daughters, Ocean Fantasy, who narrowly landed Germany's premier race for juvenile fillies, the G3 Preis der Winterkonigin.
New Bay, who landed the 2015 Prix du Jockey-Club after his defeat at Make Believe's hands in the Poulains, retired to Ballylinch a year later than his old rival. Last week saw him achieve comfortably his best price, when a first-crop colt from the same family as Enable and Flintshire sold for 300,000gns. It will be interesting to see whether New Bay can follow in the footsteps of Night of Thunder, another of Dubawi's Classic-winning sons. The 2014 2000 Guineas winner was another to be represented by his second first-crop group winner over the weekend, adding the G2 Premio Dormello winner Night Colours to G3 Princess Margaret S. winner Under The Stars. Perhaps there will be another when Pocket Square tackles Wednesday's G3 Prix des Reservoirs.
Two former Ballylinch stallions, Dream Ahead and Lawman, have been transferred to Haras de Grandcamp in recent years. Their moves to France make sense, in that both were major winners there.
Dream Ahead gained the first of his five Group 1 victories in the Prix Morny and the last of them in the Prix de la Foret, in which he beat none other than the great Goldikova. Sandwiched between these French triumphs were wins in the Middle Park, the July Cup and the Sprint Cup, so he did exceptionally well for a colt culled by Darley for only $11,000 as a weanling.
The last of Dream Ahead's five Irish crops was foaled in 2017, so all his racing-age progeny carry the Ballylinch hallmark. They have ensured that 2011's champion 3-year-old sprinter has been very well represented in this year's top sprints, to the extent that three of his progeny – each from a different crop – contested Saturday's QIPCO British Champions Sprint S.
Unfortunately Dream of Dreams failed to reproduce the type of form which had seen him run Blue Point to a head in the G1 Diamond Jubilee S. in June, but the other two ran considerable better than expected. The 33-1 Donjuan Triumphant finally earned Group 1-winner status–a graduation which had first seemed imminent as long ago as 2015, when he took the G2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte by more than five lengths. Third at Ascot on Saturday, beaten little more than a length, was Dream Ahead's 3-year-old daughter Forever In Dreams. Starting at 66-1 following two below-par efforts, the filly returned to the form which had earlier seen her finish second to Advertise in the G1 Commonwealth Cup, in which she defeated Hello Youmzain and Ten Sovereigns.
Needless to say, the going on British Champions day was heavy, and soft ground conditions seem to be less problematic to Dream Ahead's progeny than the offspring of many other stallions. Forever In Dreams's fine run against Advertise came on good to soft and she won on soft in France before her transfer to Ireland, while Dream of Dreams gained his first listed victory on soft as a 3-year-old. Donjuan Triumphant, for his part, owes his best two successes to soft and heavy ground and he was also a good third to Sands of Mali in last year's Champions Sprint on soft.
That's not to say that all of Dream Ahead's progeny need soft ground. The Racing Post's statistics show that they have won 23% of their starts on good to firm and 31% on firm. The figures for good to soft work out at 22% and 14% on soft.
Dream Ahead himself showed that he was pretty versatile where the ground was concerned, though he was never asked to race on truly firm ground. His narrow defeats of Bated Breath in the July Cup and the Betfred Sprint Cup came on good to firm ground but he was seen at his most imperious on soft ground in the Middle Park, which he took by nine lengths. Dream Ahead's sire, Diktat, also won Haydock Sprint Cup on good to firm, but he was truly versatile, taking the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest on very soft ground and finishing second in a Japanese Group 1 on firm.
As a veteran of 37 races over five seasons in training, Donjuan Triumphant has proved his soundness and durability. As a triple winner at two, including at Group 2 level, and a winner of one of Britain's top sprints, one would have thought that the 6-year-old has done enough to earn himself a berth as a stallion.
However, the fact that he is still racing at the age of six underlines how difficult it can be for a colt to secure a place as a stallion in today's industry. Fashion plays a substantial part, and that is where Donjuan Triumphant is somewhat lacking. As I have already explained, Dream Ahead was transferred to France, with the move being prompted by his progeny's failure to gain a single group victory in 2016. His sire Diktat also failed to establish a permanent home, eventually being transferred to Japan before ending up in Spain.
Moving on to the bottom half of Donjuan Triumphant's pedigree, his dam Mathuna is a winning daughter of Tagula. Although Tagula has spent his long stallion career in Ireland, his only notable stallion son was Canford Cliffs, a top-class miler who was banished to South Africa after proving much less effective as a stallion. The second dam of the Champions Sprint hero was a daughter of Priolo, who will also be remembered by Ireland's older breeders as a distinct disappointment at Corbally Stud.
On the plus side, Donjuan Triumphant comes from a family which served the late Gerry Oldham very well. His fifth dam, Zambara, found fame as the dam of the legendary stayer Sagaro, a three-time winner of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, and of the accomplished Mariella. The latter, winner of the G1 Premio Roma, was a successful broodmare and one of her daughters, Stellina, produced the Prix du Jockey-Club third Sestino.